Virus hits Port Authority leadership

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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s executive director, Rick Cotton, plans to maintain day-to-day operations of his leadership post from home after testing positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday morning during a press briefing that Cotton developed the virus after visiting the Port Authority’s airport and transit facilities.

The Port Authority issued a statement Monday afternoon saying that Cotton is currently showing no symptoms and will be self-quarantined at his home while keeping up with a full schedule. Any Port Authority staff members who were in close contact with Cotton in recent days are also working from home, according to the bi-state transportation agency.

Rick Cotton, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's executive director since August 2017, tested positive for COVID-19 and is maintaining a full schedule while self-quarantined at home.

Cotton was tapped in August 2017 to replace Pat Foye as Port Authority executive director in after spending two years as Cuomo’s special counsel for interagency initiatives where he oversaw most downstate infrastructure projects. His two and half years at the Port Authority have been focused on spearheading major redevelopment projects at the agency’s three major airports, LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty.

“He is a dear and valued colleague and our thoughts and prayers are with him,” said Patrick Foye, who is now Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO, during an MTA press briefing Monday. “By all indications he appears to be in great health, high energy level, and we’re hoping that after his quarantine period, he and his colleagues will be back at Port Authority.”

Prior to working under Gov. Cuomo from 2015 to 2017, Cotton spent 25 years in multiple roles at NBC Universal including 20 years as executive vice president. He previously worked under former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano Jr. and Deputy Secretary of Energy John Sawhill.

The Port Authority is one of the nation’s largest municipal bond issuers with around $22.1 billion in bonded debt outstanding at the end of 2019. The transportation agency’s bonds are rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-minus by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.

Following the announcement of Cotton’s diagnosis, the Citizens Budget Commission announced that the Port Authority head attended the fiscal watchdog group’s annual awards dinner on Feb. 26 and wanted to alert attendees “out of an abundance of caution.” The CBC event was held at The Pierra in Manhattan and drew hundreds of public finance professionals.

The Municipal Analysts Group of New York referenced the CBC dinner when it announced the cancellation Tuesday of its luncheon scheduled for Friday at the Yale Club. MAGNY Chairman Michael Imber said all registrants would receive a 100% refund and that a rescheduled date will be announced soon.

Paul Burton contributed to this story.

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